August 2019



The Niche

The Niche
2002, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 66 in.


The Niche


The Niche depicts a man confined in a crucifix-shaped niche built within a vine-covered wall. He stands fully erect, his arms horizontally extended, and his hands clutching two of the iron bars that make up his de facto prison. His head is hidden behind a black cloth tacked to the wall thereby obscuring his identity. Mounted across the top of the wall are a series of interlocking rings and a trio of black crows that stare down at the man's predicament. Two portals pierce the wall in the lower left and right corners of the canvas. They seemingly function as drainage pipes for some unknown water source while also serving to provide a glimpse of the space beyond the wall. A rat can be seen looking up at the man from the stone platform where the man stands. On close inspection two other rats can be seen lurking in the shadowy darkness of the pipes.




The Niche
2002, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 66 in.


The Wall (Man)
1999, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 48 in.

The Niche, like my previous painting, The Wall (Man), explores the idea of man in relation to a wall as a metaphor for objects that confine us in our earth-bound existence. In The Wall (Man) the figure is depicted as being confined exclusively by manmade objects like the wall, ropes and swaths of cloth. The figure in The Niche however is depicted as being confined by both manmade objects, like the wall and iron bars, as well as by natural objects like vines. The vines represent the idea that all of us are inextricably bound to nature and to the processes of nature. The process of nature in this case is depicted by the vine leaves being green and alive at the top of the wall but yellowed, dying or even absent at the bottom. To add to the idea of man's confinement I have also included symbols for time. The interlocking rings at the top of the wall can be read as a "chain of days" with each circle being a day and containing twenty-four smaller circles that represent the hours of that day. The rings can also be read as interlocking figure eights that represent eternity.

The Niche also explores the idea of human suffering. The crucifix-shaped niche references Christ's suffering on the cross. While the isolation of the figure's head behind a black cloth, which prevents the figure from seeing, alludes to a type of sensory deprivation. And even though the figure is depicted as vital, robust, and determined the predatory birds and rats instinctively know his confinement and fate is assured. In the end the depiction of the changing leaves, the passage of time, and elements of human suffering all reflect my core interest in representing the ideas of change and transformation and how they relate to the human condition.

Finally the theatrical and physical nature of the image of The Niche has contributed to the idea of creating an outdoor garden sculpture based on the painting. I imagine the sculpture being life-size with the wall made out of rusticated stone and the figure sculpted out of life-like but durable materials. The sculpture would also include electrical and water components. The electricity would be used to illuminate the niche using an LED light hidden behind the cloth by the figure's head and the water system would supply and control the water flowing though the two pipes that would also irrigate the living vines that cover the wall. Although this is an imagined project it is my hope that it will be realized someday.

- Brian Mains, 2018